UPDATE: Vote postponed. Another D.C. FOIA Blanket Exemption Headed for Passage Under the Radar: Open Government Coalition Again Urges Meaningful Review Before Decision
dcogcadmin | June 3, 2015
UPDATE 6-16-15 The Coalition’s concerns, reported below, together with other contacts from the community and the Washington Teachers Union, led the Council to scrap a vote planned for today. The Budget Support Act that includes the provision making teacher evaluation data forever exempt from D.C. FOIA will now be voted on June 30. See Washington Post report filed Monday by Michael Alison Chandler that includes union and Coalition views.
The Coalition Wednesday (3) wrote Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (also the other Members and the Mayor), asking that a section of the massive budget support bill for the coming year be dropped before the upcoming final vote for lack of any public input.
The Coalition said a provision exempting teacher evaluation records, held by the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), from the D.C. public records law, though passed before in temporary form, has never been aired for full review at hearings. Permanent changes in the D.C. open records law, said the Coalition letter, should be made only after close public scrutiny, including the advice of the District’s transparency experts in the Office of Open Government.
Coalition president Kevin Goldberg noted OSSE had never been asked to demonstrate the need for a blanket objection (especially since existing FOIA exemptions assure protection against needless invasions of privacy) or to deal with other potential objections by the public, press or researchers to withdrawing records of one of the District’s largest and most controversial policy areas—teacher quality in the schools.
“Enacting FOIA exemptions in this way encourages distrust and fails to fully recognize the value of transparency,” wrote Goldberg.
The Coalition letter recalled how another exemption proposed earlier this year by Mayor Bowser (and also buried in the budget support measure), that would have exempted from FOIA all video from police cameras, was turned back by the Council. The Coalition recently hailed Council action withdrawing that exemption and requiring police and the public to meet and confer for what Judiciary Committee Chairman Kenyan McDuffie called more “measured and thoughtful” consideration.
The Coalition letter ended asking the Council to “not rush to limit the public’s oversight of the school system, as there is still time to engage in the crucial thorough review of the necessity of this exemption.”
The Coalition letter is available via a link below.